IPC issues strong order limiting access to “constitutency records”

3 Jan

On December 21st the IPC/Ontario issued an order that held that communications about “cycling issues” between two councillors were not under a municipality’s custody or control.

The IPC reached its finding even though the requested records (assuming their existence) would relate to municipal business and be found (at least in part) on the municipality’s information technology system. It explained, in general terms, that records arising exclusively out of a councillor’s political activity – commonly called “constituency records” – are not subject to the right of public access:

Although the distinction between “constituency records” and “city records” is one framework for determining custody or control issues, it does not fully address the activities of municipal councillors as elected representatives or, as described in St. Elizabeth Home Society, above, “legislative officers.” Records held by councillors may well include “constituency records” in the sense of having to do with an issue relating to a constituent. But they may also include communications with persons or organizations, including other councillors, about matters that do not relate specifically to issues in a councillor’s ward and that arise more generally out of a councillor’s activities as an elected representative.

The councillors have described such records as “personal” records but it may also be appropriate to call them “political” records. In any event, it is consistent with the scheme and purposes of the Act, and its provincial equivalent, that such records are not generally subject to access requests. In National Defence, the Court stated that the “policy rationale for excluding the Minister’s office altogether from the definition of “government institution” can be found in the need for a private space to allow for the full and frank discussion of issues” and agreed with the submission that “[i]t is the process of being able to deal with the distinct types of information, including information that involves political considerations, rather than the specific contents of the records” that Parliament sought to protect by not extending the right of access to the Minister’s office.

The policy rationale applies with arguably greater force in the case of councillors who, unlike Ministers, do not have responsibility for a government department and are more like MPP’s or MP’s without a portfolio. A conclusion that political records of councillors (subject to a finding of custody or control on the basis of specific facts) are not covered by the Act does not detract from the goals of the Act. A finding that the city, as an institution covered by the Act, is not synonymous with its elected representatives, is consistent with the nature and structure of the political process. In arriving at this result, I acknowledge that there is also a public interest in the activities of elected representatives, and my determinations do not affect other transparency or accountability mechanisms available with respect to those activities.

Toronto (City) (Re), 2012 CanLII 81955 (ON IPC).

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